Why Go Out of Your Way to Cooperate with the Other Side

Why Go Out of Your Way to Cooperate with the Other Side

In many negotiating situations, it makes sense to ask for a concession from the other side each time you offer to do something for them. Mobus Creative Negotiating teaches how to be creative and insistent in concession-making: how many different things you can ask for and what arguments you can use to win something for each concession you make.

But that is not always the correct approach. We teach about a “negotiating continuum” from simple one-time haggling all the way to long-term strategic cooperation. As one gets into more on-going and complex relationships, it can make sense to make concessions without asking for anything in return.


A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  lays out how, to quote the title, Uncalculating cooperation is used to signal trustworthiness. The authors take on the usual wisdom that people cooperate when the benefits outweigh the costs, when cooperating today can bring benefits tomorrow. They show that people often cooperate without weighing the costs and benefits. As they write, “Good friends grant favors without asking questions, romantic love blinds us to the costs of devotion, and ethical principles make universal moral prescriptions.” The authors used a series of economic game experiments to explore why people engage in uncalculating cooperation. A clear explanation of how their experiments revealed the differences between those who calculate benefits and those who act based on trust is an article by two of the authors, Jillian Jordan and David Rand, in the most widely circulated British newspaper, Daily Mail.

The answer for why people engage in uncalculating cooperation was: reputation. Or in the more technical language they use, “to signal that they can be relied upon to cooperate in the future.” In their experiments, those who decide to help others only after calculating the costs were seen as particularly untrustworthy, “presumably because they seemed committed to be selfish no matter what.”

If you are in a long-term complex relationship with a strategic partner, it can make excellent sense to do a favor without calculating what is in it for you – a behavior which would be entirely inappropriate if you are haggling a simple purchase from someone with whom you may never again do business. Mobus Creative Negotiating teaches you how to recognize what are the appropriate behavior patterns for the different kind of relationships you get into.